TT Electronics opens Manchester power factory
TT Electronics has formally opened its latest power systems manufacturing plant in Manchester UK.
The 45,000 sq ft plant sees TT Electronics making AC-DC and DC-DC units for customers such as BAe Systems for the Typhoon and F35 aircraft, Airbus for the A400M transporter and Rolls Royce for submarines.
The plant is part of a strategic shift in production and also product development to high voltage avionics systems to reduce the weight of the wiring harnesses. This also opens up the market for electric air taxis.
“Our future product roadmaps are about leveraging the developments rather than an individual focus,” said Matt Yeates, Vice president and general manager of power solutions for Europe and the rest of the world at TT Electronics (above, far right at the opening with Rear Admiral Donald J.M. Doull). “Our technology will be modular to make us much more agile. We are not trying to sell components but solve problems and the primes are pushing out the problems to experts like us,” he tells eeNews Europe.
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UK-based electronics conglomerate TT bought the existing power product lines from Ferranti Power and Control Bus back in January 2022 when Israeli defence firm Elbit bought the wider business. “We carved out an acquisition of 60 people focussed on power electronics, while Elbit kept the simulation business,” said Yeates.
The business then moved to a nearby factory site with room for expansion. “We have built with extra capacity,” says Yeates. “We have room to grow from 70 people today and over the next five years we will be doubling that.”
The factory currently runs one shift and could increase the number of shifts as well as add new commercial and secure assembly lines, by future business wins. “The way that TT operates is that the business earns its right to grow and that makes the investment available,” says Yeates.
“The first phase was about business continuity so the investment in the facility and the next phase will be in manufacturing technology but we are high complexity, low volume so its a skilled activity in terms of assembly. You can talk about cobots but when you are building at the rates we are it is not so relevant. Where we are using digital technology is to manage the supply chains and the planning and execution process.”
The factory works closely with the Advanced Technology Centre at Nottingham University on the development of power architectures and system design, transferring the designs to Manchester for production and 100% testing.
TT also has a power supply plant in Abercynon in south Wales, custom magnetics in Barnstable, Devon and subassembly manufacturing in Kuantan in Malaysia with 600 people. Yeates has a counterpart for the two sites in the US in Kansas City and Minneapolis.
“HV DC-DC is one of our main projects and we focus development alongside customers,” said Yeates. The three year project starts next month and will also be looking at how the power system health monitoring can be enhanced in new designs using digital twins and advanced modelling.
“Health monitoring will be fully integrated with bigger systems so they have to be able to collaborate and operate seamlessly with the plane or the vehicle so it’s about the data, and digital twin in the development work is very much part of the focus,” said Yeates. “We have very sophisticated power management models that can simulate the designs.”
“We can bring programmes from the drawing board through phased evolution and then productionise them close to the facilities where we manufacturer,” he said. “One of the challenges is there’s a lot of assembly work so there is a degree of reshoring that people are looking for and sovereign supply but Malaysia works well for that as a Commonwealth country and we bring in subassemblies from Malaysia.”
Recruitment of skilled staff will be key to expanding the plant. “Recruitment is very much about stimulating our internal pipelines and we want to stimulate our reputation in the North and apprenticeships are very much part of the process,” said Yeates.
The relationship with Nottingham University and a local technical college are key for this. “Nottingham University is a good international development process and we are getting back into this. UK industry has to build its own capability and there’s less of a brain drain now but we need to make it attractive to work in manufacturing in the UK.”
“The creativity that is coming through in the younger generation will transform what we do, 3D modelling and development work, finite element analysis modelling, if you are an engineer you will have an affinity with that kind of capability,” he said.
A key focus is the power system design for the next generation Tempest fighter aircraft programme which is funded by the UK, Italy and Japan with prime contractors BAe Systems, Rolls Royce and MBDA in the UK and Leonardo in Italy.
“We are part of Team Tempest,” said Yeates. “There are more players in it now but as a next generation fighter platform its vital for TT Electronics. Partnering and working closely with the primes is the best way to secure your future business pipeline.”